Eric Stonestreet has become a breakout star on ABC’s “Modern Family” this season, but every actor has to start somewhere. For Stonestreet, that started with painting himself purple from head to toe and singing the praises of Northwestern University’s football team.
“That was my first professional job,” Stonestreet says of his days as “Purple Pride Guy” (you can see him in action here). “I was from Kansas and had gone to Kansas State, so [purple and white] were my colors and the Wildcats were my team and it sort of came naturally to me. … It was a blast.”
Stonestreet’s Cameron has yet to break out the body paint on “Modern Family” — although he did do up his face in blue and orange for a University of Illinois game on the show a few weeks back — but his big, soft-hearted character has won a lot of fans. He talked with me Tuesday about where the character comes from, who his parents might be — and having his real-life mom on the show.
Zap2it: Cameron’s a pretty astute observer of the dynamics of this family, isn’t he?
Stonestreet: Yeah. I think it’s just part of the writers’ overall feeling about the show, [which] is they want to tell a story about a family in as real a way as possible. I think Ty [Burrell] and Sofia [Vergara] and I all have that sort of in common — we’re outsiders looking in. But I think Cameron comes from a very different way [of doing things], and we’re going to keep finding those things out about how he deals with family situations.
One that cracks me up the most when I think about it is when I said to Mitchell [in “En Garde”], “We all hear the words that cut like knives,” and Claire says “I brought orange slices,” and Cameron is like, “I can’t take this.” It’s just brilliant writing, because he wants to get everything out in the open as quickly as he can. Which makes for great comedy, but it also I think a healthy way of living.
I get the sense, too, that Cameron is still kind of a big kid, or at least is still able to take joy in a lot of things.
My take on the character from the very beginning is that this is an opportunity for me to get to live how I’d like to live in real life, which is not letting moments pass. I think Cameron’s a great example for people in that way. You celebrate the moments, celebrate the little times, celebrate the big times, sometimes in big ways.
Are you anywhere near the ham that he is?
I always say I’m a reluctant ham. … I’ll definitely take that role when I sort of realize I have to, but I really am an observer. I like to be at a party and be a quiet observer, be in conversation. I wouldn’t say I was a class clown growing up, but I would definitely sit back in class and take snipes at the teacher. [Laughs] I’m glad to take that role on when I have to, but I would rather let someone else be the center of attention.
Your relationship with Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell, is pretty great. Was that there from the beginning?
He tested with me — he had already gotten the job as Mitchell and they were seeing other Camerons, trying to get the role cast. When we met, we just sort of hit it off. He’s a really good guy. We kind of come from similar towns — Kansas City [Kan.] and Albuquerque — it’s not like we grew up in Manhattan or L.A. Our moms met, and they’re very similar — there’s already talk of putting our moms on a cruise ship together and sending them off somewhere.
He’s a good guy, I’m a good guy, we both think a lot of the same things are funny. … Offscreen he’s way more like Cameron as far as being breezy and accepting and easygoing. I’m more uptight. … But yeah, we just hit it off. … I think the fundamental element to our relationship is he and I like each other as people. And it’s pretty easy to like him.
What is Cameron’s background? Will we meet his family at some point?
We’re definitely going to meet them. There’s been talk of all that, and that’s very exciting for me with some of the casting that’s happened on our show. I’m on the edge of my seat wanting to know who my parents are. I definitely have ideas and it’s definitely been talked about.
Cameron is from a rural area in Missouri, he grew up on a farm. We don’t know quite how he came out of the closet yet. You’re going to find out little tidbits in the next few episodes about how my parents knew I was gay, but I think the thing is my parents are very supportive, very passionate and funny people. I can’t wait for America to meet Cameron’s mom — I think Cameron’s mom probably has a lot to do with his vivaciousness.
Has your mom been cast yet?
My mom is an extra in the “Fizbo” episode [which airs Nov. 25]. She in the hospital scene — she’s the silver-haired lady in blue. You can’t miss her when Fizbo comes into the emergency room. That’s my real-life mom. Cameron’s mom hasn’t been cast.
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